When Jen Cohen was appointed two weeks ago as UW's AD, I deliberately avoided clicking on the breaking news article we at the 'Pound had published. This wasn't because I was bummed about the hire - everything I've heard about her is unanimously positive - but rather because I knew when it comes to women in sports combined with Internet comments, even at a place like this where the conversation is refreshingly civil, things can get weird, degrading, and downright full of crap really fast.
That's not to say that this sort of thing is relegated to anonymous trolls dwelling beneath The Seattle Times articles.
I grew up in a baseball family and one of my first words was "Edgar" (who, for the record, should be in the Hall of Fame already, gall darn it). From six to nine I played baseball with - wait for it - boys! And furthermore, I kicked their asses, at least as much as an eight-year-old kid can do so. Part of that is, playing anything so young, half the kids have the hand-eye coordination of an artichoke. Regardless, on each team the lineup usually consisted of six losers building sand castles in right field, one little boy who thought he was hot stuff, one other boy who actually was hot stuff, and me.
I switched to fastpitch softball in third grade. I didn't do that because I wanted to play softball; what I wanted was to play baseball, but what I really wanted, even more than to play baseball, was to not have to play with boys. This wasn't because the boys had finally figured how to outplay their prepubescent mediocrity and were subsequently
better than me. It was because, no matter how consistently I proved that I more than held my own, I was still "the girl" and it was as such that they interacted with me. If you've never experienced that weird tension that comes with clearly being the odd one out, I can tell you it's what our grandparents would call "character building," no matter how subtle it appears. Even eight year-old me noticed it.
It wasn't these little boys' fault, really. They didn't mean to aggrieve me or any other girls. I don't think it was their parents' fault either, because it's not like they had been sat down and told "Here's how your son should interact with the girls on his sports teams, and here's how to make him do it" and just thrown that advice in the garbage. Each generation inherits the unenviable situation of having to identify and correct their predecessors' vices when guiding the next batch of kids. Who turn into the next batch of adults. Wash, rinse, repeat. In my short time so far on Earth, I've realized that each human is fumbling around desperately trying to figure out how to do the right thing and pass it on, the never-ending process of which being about as graceful as blind Ron Burgundy. So when we get it wrong once in a while, that's okay.
Since my parents were kids in the 60s, my dad grew up doing basically nothing but playing baseball while my mom grew up without even having that option. As she puts it, "I could've done gymnastics but, when you're 5'9" by eighth grade, that's probably not happening."
My mom couldn't have taught me to throw because nobody had taught her how. Because she was a girl in the era of Betty Draper fretting that, "if [my son had a scar] it would be okay because a boy with a scar is nothing. But a girl, it's so much worse." So my mom, by no fault of her own, couldn't teach me.
But Dad could.
When I reveal I'm into sports, the assumptions tend to be that I'm either a) doing it to impress guys or b) a lesbian. Neither of those are true, although the former is a not uncommon byproduct. What is true is that I had a dad who taught his daughter to throw when she was two and took her to her first Husky football game when she was four.
A few years later he bought me a Twix for throwing the ball over the hedge and into my neighbor's lawn. A year after that I got a radio to listen to Mariners games because I hit the ball over the same hedge. Luckily, our neighbor's a boss. He didn't mind.
I still have that radio, though the tuner is stuck on a station broadcasting from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. That's thanks to dad.
That's thanks to a guy identifying the flaws of his generation's childhood - that my mom couldn't have played softball even if she wanted to, in this relatively low-stakes case - and fixing it.
A handful of women like to dismiss on some level that we need the support of men. And I get it. The thought that we need men in order to succeed seems counter-intuitive to the concept of being strong and powerful and whatever other things we aim to be. More so, the thought that we need men in order to succeed just feels crappy. But the fact is that 50ish percent of the population is men; that population has a disproportionate amount of power within the institutions with which we interact, from the comments section on this site to Congress to the amount of people who can teach their kid to throw a baseball.
The fact is that without the support from these men and the power that accompanies them, the ceiling for a woman is a lot lower in spite of how talented or tough or qualified she might be. I could be the best, most hilarious, most thought-provoking writer in the world on my own "strong independent woman" merit, but if I'm sitting across from Stephen Colbert at The Colbert Report's potential-new-employees-interview-desk (this hypothetical dream job situation is pre-2014, duh) and he's the one deciding whether I get hired, I depend on him. And as long as I'm writing here, I depend on you guys. If not for access to physical publishing (I can thank Chris and Ryan and the killer site managers here for that), at least for access to not being torn to shreds in the comments section by accusations that the name "Gabey" and the accompanying XX chromosomes must mean I can't know anything about sports.
After Jennifer Cohen's appointment to AD, I swore I wouldn't read our article because I knew if I read it I would be clinically incapable of keeping away from the comments. That steadfastness lasted about, oh, 20 minutes before I gave in and clicked. And then of course I read the comments.
And I remembered how effing awesome it is here. I remembered how silly I was to have been apprehensive about your reactions. I remembered that you guys love Washington, and the people who make Washington great, and that it doesn't matter if those people are guys or gals. I had been fearing a bunch of men throwing out baseless accusations of UW hiring a woman for political reasons, or comparisons of Cohen to Hedges based solely on them both being women as if that quality overrides everything else that distinguishes one woman from another. I found exactly one comment considering the Cohen to Hedges comparison - and that comment was followed by a multitude of responses respectfully declining to accept the validity of such a comparison. The best part? The person who originally brought the topic up responded, admitting his assumption of the two characters was inaccurate.
I came across a bunch of men who were psyched about Jen Cohen because she clearly is a great choice. The fact that she is a she was just detail.
The UW Dawg Pound community - one that is so so so predominantly male - has constantly surprised me with your guys' support of all Huskies regardless of whether it's the men or women that are accomplishing something. Around the women's basketball Final Four run I realized, skimming the comments section, that this is how it's supposed to be; the stoke level for the team went to 11 - and it wasn't some sort of obligatory pat on the back. It wasn't "Oh look! The girls are doing well! That's good for them. How cute!" It wasn't about men's or women's basketball. It was about Husky basketball.
Same thing with women's golf winning the - dare I say it - NATTY (apologies, I couldn't help it) the other day. Same thing with crew and softball. Here at the Pound, when we aren't fretting over O-line 'croots and/or John Ross' knee, we're busy rooting for all our Dawgs all the time.
As men, you have a lot more control over women's opportunities than you probably realize. But once we're provided with them, it's up to us to show that chicks can kick ass. So teach your niece, daughter, granddaughter, third-cousin once-removed, etc. to throw. She might be pretty good at it.
And as always: Do good things, don't do bad things, and bow down to Washington.